As the semester draws to a close and we find ourselves rapidly approaching the throes of week eleven, I have the strong sense that some reflection is now in order.
And, since I have been mostly preoccupied with my project this week, many of my present thoughts relating to the module, its structure, and pedagogical reasoning will be filtered through this lens.
So what did I expect of this module, its expectations, and the looming 5000-word essay component at the beginning of the course? To put it bluntly, not much short of disaster, though from about the second week on the course, when we sat and discussed habits and routines, I found that I was already far more optimistic, even enthused about the prospect, and both considerably more than I had expected!
With a few ideas in my head and not a single clue how achievable any of them might be as a project, the next couple of weeks were spent dutifully zooming in and out of various topics and histories, until I had finally settled on my object of study and the questions which I hoped to answer over the course of the next few weeks, not yet knowing quite where they would take me.
A first revelation on this journey was the issue of sites. My initial proposal, although clear in its emphasis on select transnational actors, I realised was not quite as methodologically watertight as I had thought, moving between a few sites which I had identified in early readings but failed to justify in other ways: why include those sites specifically? why include certain places but not others?
This is something which I believe I have now resolved by way of tracing East India Company voyages within a more specific time period and by emphasising useful or interesting examples rather than committing myself to a few random sites from the outset. Yet as well as a personal challenge, this is also a good example of one of the ways that I expect we have all been challenged by this module: that is, it has encouraged us to think not only in terms of transnational phenomena, but transnational methodologies.
Maybe I’ve just gone a little bit mad at this point, but I have to admit that this particular aspect of the tutorial readings has really grown on me over the course of the semester, so I am glad I have managed to ‘unmake’ this particular assumption and remake the setting for my project around the history itself rather than the other way around.
Fast forward a few more weeks and we arrive at my second revelation: this one a little more light-hearted. For although I suppose it should have been obvious — get this, folks — the more time you have to do your research, the more research you are going to wind up with!
I am sure I am not the only one who is still Ctrl-F, Ctrl+B, and Ctrl+Xing their way through an unruly notes document or three, even as the structure of our arguments should now be finally taking shape. So, although it is rather comical, I feel like this is a stage that I probably underestimated, given that it is something that I would usually do alongside and during rather than ahead of the writing process for a shorter essay.
So, my final advice to next year’s cohort: remember that the more notes you take, the more you’re going to have to work with later, but also the more you’re going to have to work against if you’re not careful. Keep your note-taking focused or, if that’s not your style, be prepared to spend a lot of time chopping and changing afterwards.
And, if you value your sanity: always, always note down the page number.